Review: Beggar Prince – Sega Genesis / Megadrive

 With all the praise we give the Dreamcast for staying alive with new commercial releases, we sometimes forget about other older systems that have a new game released. In this case, racketboy.com contributer, retrogamer, shares his review of the recent Sega Genesis release of Beggar Prince.

Introduction:
Beggar Prince is a rare and obscure title that took 10 years to finally get the recognition that it is due. The game originated as a Chinese Megadrive game by C&E, Inc in 1996 known as Xin Qigai Wangzi (which when translated means: The New The Prince and the Pauper).

An English translation of the game was done by American company Super Fighter Team, and began shipping to preorder customers on May 22, 2006 at the price of $40 per copy. Beggar Prince is the first game for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis to be commercially released in the United States since 1998.

Technicalities
For a Sega Mega Drive/Genesis game, Beggar Prince is rather large, weighing in at 32-megabits (4 megabytes) in size. Players could record their progress to any of the four available save slots. The game shipped within a plastic clamshell case along with a glossy, full-color 27-page instruction manual.

Beggar Prince works with any Sega Genesis, Mega Drive or Nomad system, regardless of region (NTSC and PAL are both supported). However, due to the manner in which the game’s save function is programmed, it is impossible to save on systems connected to the 32X or hybrid CD systems such as the CDX and Wondermega. But playing the game with a Sega Mega-CD/Sega CD attached to the Mega Drive/Genesis works fine.

Although the game was received with acclaim upon its release, gamers soon discovered a few glitches in the game. While Super Fighter Team had spent over a year working out the bugs left behind by C&E, it was simply not cost efficient to fix them all. While most of these errors were trivial, one or two could result in the game’s main character getting stuck in a certain place where he was not supposed to be, meaning the player would have to backtrack by loading a previously saved game.

As of September 8th 2006, the Super Fighter Team release of this game (600 copies) had completely sold out. However, on October 18th 2006, Super Fighter Team announced they had begun taking pre-orders for a second production run (300 copies). You can still order this game at beggarprince.com

Graphics & Presentation
 When I received my brand new Beggar Prince game from the Super Fighter Team, I was pretty much baffled. After all, this is the first cartridge released for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive) in over eight years. There was definitely a nostalgic rush on opening the plastic container and pulling out the cartridge, reading the manual and popping a freshly minted Genesis game in my aging console.

However, the question remains, is there enough demand for a Genesis title for a company to release physical product? Will the game hold up (as it’s a port of a ten year old game), especially compared to current and next generation titles, especially at a price point of $46 after shipping? Well, let’s dive into this title and find out, shall we?

Upon starting the game, it’s very obvious that this is a 16-bit title we’re looking at. The graphics aren’t any better than one would expect, and that’s why it wouldn’t be fair to judge this title up against a game of a similar genre like: Sword Of Vermillion.

Beggar Prince’s graphics stand up pretty well to the test of time, especially compared to other titles such as Phantasy Star IV, Sonic the Hedgehog and other classic Genesis titles. The colors are bright and clean, and there’s enough detail on the tiny characters to give you an idea of their emotions. One of the nice things that was originally programmed into the game was the idle animations. Although they happen very quickly in the game, faster than any other game I can recall, the Prince will turn and stare at the screen, then sit down, then fall back asleep. It’s the little things like this that can make a game that much better.

The spell effects in the game are big and bold, again about what you’d expect from a 16-bit RPG. There are no FMVs, of course, or any of the advanced 16-bit graphical achievements, but what’s there is solid and holds up well enough. Also, if you’re playing a Genesis in the first place, you know what you’re going to get graphically.

Music & Audio
I’ve been a bit spoiled by music in games, even in the 16-bit era, with what came out of the Super Nintendo for the Final Fantasy series. So while I wasn’t expecting a full orchestra, I was hoping for some solid sound and music. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where Beggar Prince falls short. The music is highly repetitive, and not in a good way. It was almost to the point where I started to play the game muted just because I was tired of the very similar dungeon and battle music for much of the game. Granted, not having any idea on the budget that the original Chinese release had, it’s not sure what was even possible, but I would think it would be something with a bit more variety than this.

The sounds themselves aren’t bad, especially the battle noises. The menu noises were a bit loud and jangling to my ear, but that’s less of a bother than the repetition in the game’s music. Unfortunately, being a Genesis game, there’s no ability to have a custom soundtrack…unless you mute the game and pop a CD in somewhere else like I did.

Story & Atmosphere
 The story of Beggar Prince starts out as an obvious borrowing of “The Prince and the Pauper.” You begin in the Schatt Kingdom, where you are the prince. The prince is a spoiled brat, of course, and spends much of his time goofing off. He’s supposed to be learning magic, but the Court Magician can only get him to learn the ‘Faint’ spell, which will cause people to pass out for a short time. The prince, of course, is completely tired of his lessons, and runs off into the town one day. While running from the guards, he runs into a young beggar which looks exactly like him. The two talk and the Prince talks the beggar into switching clothes and going back to the castle while the Prince will get his chance to explore the city.

Finally, the beggar agrees, and he returns to the castle, leaving the Prince to explore the city. Unfortunately, he’s wearing filthy, smelly clothes, and everyone generally treats him like you’d expect them to treat a beggar. The show of the Prince’s money adjusts attitudes somewhat, but when the money’s gone, it’s back to treating him like dirt. Of course, the Prince doesn’t like this, and goes back to the castle to change back. Unfortunately, dressed as he is, the guards don’t believe him, and ask him to bring back some proof of who he is as ‘the prince’ is already inside the castle. A trip to the home of the Court Magician reveals that there are three treasures (a Crown, a Ring and a Seal) which have been lost for years: returning them should prove that he’s the rightful Prince.

The three treasures are relatively easy to find, requring only one dungeon to be explored. Once they’re found, the true story begins to take shape, as the kingdom’s Cat Minister has imprisoned the King and the fake Prince, leaving you as the only person capable of saving your Kingdom. Of course, you only find this out when you get back inside the castle and are taken prisoner. If that isn’t enough, by the time you escape the castle you find that the evil Cat Minister has turned everyone except the guards into cats. Now the major quest begins.

First off, the game world is huge. You can see right off that there are four exits from the town, and you presume you’ll get out of each. At first glance, it doesn’t look like there’s all that much to the game world. However, by the time you pick up a map in the game and look at it, you realize that you’ve only scratched the surface of the world, so to speak. This means that the game is pretty long, clocking in somewhere between 30 and 40 hours at a minimum, although it could easily take longer due to some of the numerous death traps in the game.

This was one of the things that frustrated me the most about this title, and almost had me turning the machine off from time to time. There are numerous places in the games where if you take a wrong step you immediately die without any real warnings. This doesn’t so much up the difficulty of the game as much as it increases the frustration factor. When you’re killing off your players with insta-kills, especially when the save point is more than a minute or two away, you risk turning your players off of the game.

Gameplay & Controls
 Another thing which upped the frustration level is the number of random combats. As with many of the old-school RPGs, combats are fierce and often. It leads to the common refuge of running away from battle at times, although with the way the combat system works, you’re only allowed two attempts to flee per combat round.

The combat is … unique, to say the least, with both good and bad points. As with many 16-bit RPGs, the combat is turn-based. What’s different about this is that it uses a Stamina bar as well. Each attack you do, each item you use and each spell you cast sucks up some of your stamina. Also, if you sit idle at the screen, your stamina will drain away as well, meaning that if you set the controller down and walk away, the enemies will wait until your stamina runs out, then beat on you, repeating until you’re dead. Casting a spell or trying to flee uses up a large chunk of your stamina bar, meaning you can only try to flee twice, cast one major spell per round, or physically attack your enemies up to five times. The monsters also use a stamina bar with much the same restrictions. This leads to one of the biggest issues with combat in the game: by the time you’ve gotten a level or two in an area, or a new weapon, you’re powerful enough that most combats last only one round, where at the end of which you’ve killed all of the monsters. It makes many combats trivial at best, and this also extends to boss fights, as there is one spell that can be used (and learned early on) which can make you invulnerable for the first two rounds of combat, by which point you’ve all but killed the boss. During no boss combat did I need to heal more than once, which made the difficulty of combat almost nil in many spots.

As with many RPGs, you can only save in designated save points, which seem to come a bit less often than I’d really like, leading to the example mentioned above of dying to a death trap far enough away from a save point to cause a lot of frustration. Healing items, however, are in good supply, and many towns include beds for sleeping, with dungeons generally containing magic fountains to restore HP or MP.

The inventory system in Beggar Prince is very simplified. There is no money, so there’s no need to purchase weapons or armor or items. In fact, monsters never drop anything at all. All of your items, be it weapons, armor, or treasure, are found in red chests littered through the towns and dungeons. You can also recieve some items through your various quests that you undertake throughout the game. When you get a new weapon or piece of armor, you automatically equip it, saving the trouble of sorting through inventory to unload your junk items.

 Many things in the game also level up with your character. Your attacks will change with the same weapon as you level, becoming both visably and numerically more powerful. Healing spells and items will scale up as well, which can be very helpful later on, as the item that healed 60 HP in the beginning of the game will eventually heal a few hundred HP or more.

Magic is one of the more interesting ideas in the game, as it’s split up into elements (fire, wind, water, earth, light, dark) and voodoo, spirit, and healing. Each monster in the game has an element that it is strong in, and only the element opposing it will do major damage to it. It requires that you learn about your monsters, and know what spell to use in a particular combat to make things easier. You’ll gain more spells in each of the elements as you progress through the game, both by leveling up and through various quests. It’s an interesting idea, although it does help in trivializing combat to some degree.

The control scheme of the game on the other hand is an area where it’s almost impossible to screw up, especially on a Genesis control that originally only had four buttons. Even though my Genesis came with the six-button controller, Beggar Prince only uses three: B, C and Start. Start, of course, is used for pausing the game, which brings up the inventory menu, as well as the save/load functionality and showing your character’s stats. There’s also a window in the middle where the Sun Jewel will show up once found. The C button is used for pretty much everything in an RPG from selecting enemies, choosing menu options, opening chests and talking to people. B is much less used, but is as important as it’s what is used to cancel choices made with C. Movement is, of course, done with the directional pad.

Overall:
 Being an RPG, there’s not really any replay value, so we can toss that right out the window, leaving us with the value section. At $46 dollars, it’s really hard to justify this purchase unless you’re serious about collecting games, enjoy old-school gaming to the exclusion of anything else, or have enough disposable income to be able to purchase this without qualms.

It’s not that the game is bad, it’s more that when you consider that a good number of PS2, Xbox and Gamecube games are coming out near end of console at $20 to $30, it’s hard to justify dropping $40 plus shipping on a title for an obsolete console. However, it must be noted here that apparently only 600 copies of this game exist, so it does make for a solid collectible.

The game does offer some solid length for the money, with the storyline clocking in somewhere between 30 and 40 hours, depending on your play style and how often you die, of course. It’s just that you really have to be willing to look past the game’s shortcomings to see the RPG goodness beneath.

In conclusion, while I was really surprised by this game existing, and not expecting much, overall I found the game to be a solid RPG, marred by some seriously frustrating issues involving death traps, the combat system, and a few bugs still remaining in game causing console lock. Most of the problems in the game, admittedly, cannot be blamed on Super Fighter Team, instead involving the original code and design of the game. That doesn’t change the game any, but in all fairness, it’s not Super Fighter Team’s fault, either.

It’s nice to see a title come out for the Genesis, and it shows that the console isn’t completely dead, especially in the hearts of those who love it. Hopefully Super Fighter Team will come out with more in the future, and not just for the Genesis.

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